Dr. David Merwin

Geography

David Merwin

Professor David Merwin is chair of Framingham State’s Geography Department and has been teaching at FSU since 2005. He holds a master’s degree and a PhD in Geography from the University of Connecticut. Dr. Merwin specializes in geographic information systems (GIS), and is in the process of establishing a Center for GIS Outreach at Framingham State. He is also a member of the Framingham State Enrollment Data Team, where he is using GIS to help the University understand enrollment trends.

What are geographic information systems (GIS)?

GIS is a platform for displaying, visualizing and analyzing geographic data in a way that allows you to overlay different types of information on the same map. By doing so, you can see spatial patterns that would be difficult to identify by looking at charts or tables. GIS is used by all facets of government, business, health organizations, political campaigns and numerous other organizations to answer questions, solve problems and make decisions. Examples of its application include public health organizations tracking the reported locations of an infectious disease for clues about how it’s spreading or a town using GIS to make decisions about managing its infrastructure.

How has GIS changed in recent years?

When I first learned about GIS in school 25 years ago, all information to be used for mapping in GIS had to be created manually. Today, the internet has put GIS at the forefront of our society with the availability to map objects in real time using GPS, the use of high-resolution remote sensing/satellite imagery data through programs such as Google Earth, and the ability to analyze crowdsourcing data. For example, social media sites like Twitter provide the locations of millions of people throughout the world using hashtags in their tweets. Having the ability to map trending Twitter hashtags in a GIS allows you to analyze behavior with the availability of remote sensing satellite imagery and the concept of crowdsourcing. Social media sites like Twitter provide the locations of millions of people and allow you to analyze patterns in ways that would have been impossible even five years ago. There is a huge demand for graduates who have a background in this technology. You need to use GIS in order to manage all this information we are able to gather. In terms of job prospects, it’s a great field to get into, and this will continue for many years to come.

How have you partnered with the Town of Framingham on GIS projects?

A few years ago, through a partnership with the MetroWest Economic Research Center (MERC), we had students complete a business survey in Framingham to understand the mood of business owners within the community in regard to the overall appearance of downtown. The results of the survey were then given to a GIS student, and he created maps for each survey questionnaire response. Overall, the results showed distinct geographic patterns of sentiment throughout the downtown area. We came away with a better understanding of not only the nature of the businesses in downtown Framingham, but also the ways in which the town could improve and help the businesses become more successful. This summer, we are going to be working with the town again on a tree inventory project in the immediate downtown area.

What are your plans for the Center for GIS Outreach?

The Center for GIS Outreach is a University-wide center whose goal is to provide GIS assistance and outreach to not only the University and local communities, but also nonprofit organizations in the area that are in need of GIS for their day-to-day activities. Our main purpose is to get students involved in GIS and help them gain internships and networking experience. The center should allow us to develop relationships with these organizations that will hopefully be long lasting. It will be located in Hemenway Hall, but most of the work will take place outside the center at the organizations we are assisting.